Yesterday was Teresa May’s moment. It was not something that was planned. It wasn’t a stunt. It wasn’t a strategy. It was raw visceral anger. For the very first time we the public had a glimpse of the real May. Not awkward. Not shy. Not reciting some sound bite like a funereal chant. The Twenty Seven had not just humiliated her they had humiliated Great Britain. And on behalf of us all she gave the EU leaders the V sign, the English taunt to French archers before the battle of Agincourt. It will resonate with the British people. This will consolidate her position at conference. This will forestall any thought of an early leadership election. Any thought of a conference within a conference is dead in the water. The party have seen real grit and guts in adversity. They will genuinely and enthusiastically rally to her support. They wanted leadership. Now they have it. Anyone who rocks her boat (pay attention Mr. Johnson) will be held in contempt. A week is a long time in politics, so anything can happen. But this is her opportunity not to unify the party, which is impossible, but to paper over the cracks with a degree of credibility. And if anyone (pay attention Mr Mogg) challenges her to change course it will be seen as a weakness, a cave in to Brussels aggression. Although it might be helpful if the ERGs publish their barmy crash out plans because it will show that we as a nation are not going to be pushed around. “U turn if you want to but the lady is not for turning”. And I was there when Margaret Thatcher uttered those words to rapturous applause. Strange how history repeats itself in a way we never expect. It was Richard Nixon’s Chekkers speech that rescued his career, it is Madame’s Chequers plan that has breathed life into her premiership.
We are not short of analysis of what went wrong in Salzburg. But when the dust has settled it will be seen as a terrible political misjudgment by the EU elite. Like Thatcher, May had irritated them, but rather than rise above it they indulged in a collective temper tantrum. And it played into everyone’s worst preconceptions of Brussels; swaggering arrogance and a contempt for democracy. For once Brussels is on the back foot and they are going to have to make concessions.
Yesterday I had lunch with some old friends who are former Foreign Office mandarins. They are, of course, Remainers. But they are of the view that Madame is playing it right. But please let us not not delude ourselves that this is the death knell of Brexit. It isn’t. Now pay attention Ms Soubrey. Chequers is not a Dodo, it is more like a Phoenix rising from the ashes. It now has a serious chance of taking to the air in one form or another.
My mandarin chums reminded me of how the EU negotiates. Threats, bluster and finally a compromise in the early hours of the morning at the last possible moment. They called it the Brussels Dawn Wankasm. And they are right. Macron is in trouble, so a bit of Brit bashing will go down well in the short term, yet not forever. Merkel has lost her Mojo and probably will eventually lose her job. And this is Juncker’s last hurrah. He is a lame duck President and will shortly be spending more time with his wine cellar. I suspect Tusk was the unwilling message boy. But he has blown it. So it will be Barnier, with his eye firmly on the top job, who will be applying the balm.
A few years ago I was sitting in the Commons when Enoch Powell rose to ask the PM a question. It came as more of a statement. “Yesterday I received a report from a metallurgist. It confirmed beyond doubt that the Right Honourable lady is indeed made of iron”. Well, if the old boy was still around his metallurgist would probably confirm that Teresa May is indeed made of Titanium. Titanium Teresa has a ring to it. The hardest natural metal known to man. Brussels beware. The lady is not for burning.